This research seeks to help the U.S. Air Force (USAF) understand the implications for future operations in the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) of Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) land that overlaps the NTTR. The USAF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) co-manage this land, and some of it is proposed wilderness. The proposed wilderness designation can restrict some desired Air Force activities.
The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) and Proposed Wilderness Areas
Issues Affecting the NTTR's Land Withdrawal Renewal
Published Jan 12, 2016
- How does co-management of Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) lands that overlap the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) factor into the upcoming NTTR land withdrawal renewal discussion?
- What are Air Force options for obtaining greater operational flexibility in the NTTR areas that are proposed as wilderness?
- What are the limits that proposed wilderness in overlapping DNWR and NTTR lands place on Air Force training?
- What potential approaches to these limits should decision-makers consider as part of, and even separately from, a strategy related to the renewal of the land-withdrawal authorization?
The testing and training available at the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), in southern Nevada, is considered crucial to the survival of U.S. military personnel and to the success of their missions. As a Major Range and Test Facility Base (MRTFB), the NTTR also is a core element of Department of Defense (DoD) Test and Evaluation (T&E) infrastructure. 2.9 million acres of land have been withdrawn from public use for the NTTR, and the authorization for this withdrawal expires in November 2021. To renew the land withdrawal, the Air Force must submit a request to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A significant portion of the NTTR overlaps some land within the Desert National Wildlife Refuge that has been designated as proposed wilderness. This document provides background on the proposed wilderness designation; the limits that it places on Air Force training; and potential approaches to mitigating these limits that decision-makers should consider as part of, and even separately from, a strategy related to the renewal of the land-withdrawal authorization. The Air Force has several options for obtaining greater operational flexibility in the NTTR areas that are proposed as wilderness. All of these options would require working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and within official USFWS processes, to meet Air Force objectives.
The Impact of Proposed Wilderness on Air Force Operations in the NTTR Should Be Addressed During the Land Withdrawal Renewal Process
- Because of use restrictions imposed by proposed wilderness on the DNWR, there are desired range activities that cannot be conducted on some lands in the NTTR.
- Although the proposed wilderness technically is separate from the withdrawal issue, dealing with the issue now may provide the Air Force an opportunity to gain flexibility in its operations, which is important for future operations and missions of the NTTR
- Management of refuges and of proposed wilderness is complicated, and involves many players. In order to encourage support for renewal of the land withdrawal and explore the possibility of more flexibility in operations, the Air Force must fully document its purpose and needs for withdrawn lands in the NTTR.
USAF Has a Range of Approaches to Acquire Operational Flexibility on NTTR's DNWR Lands
- It could try to get USFWS to withdraw the wilderness proposal for the part of the DNWR lands falling within the NTTR.
- It could work with the USFWS to have the USFWS include more of the USAF operational considerations in the DNWR Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) implementation of the "revised proposal" for the DNWR proposed wilderness areas.
- It could work with USFWS to revise the 1997 memorandum of understanding regarding the DNWR.
- It could work with the USFWS to have USFWS conduct a minimum requirements analysis (MRA) for DNWR management activities.
- It could try to get the USFWS to conduct a wilderness review process to see if NTTR's DNWR lands still are suitable for the wilderness designation.
- It may be possible to explore with USFWS the possibility of transferring primary jurisdiction to the Air Force of other areas considered crucial to maintaining testing and training capabilities.
- Although the proposed wilderness on NTTR's DWNR lands technically is separate from the withdrawal issue, dealing with the issue now may provide the Air Force an opportunity to gain flexibility in its operations in the South Range, which is important for future operations and missions of the NTTR.
- The South Range presently has some restricted areas, with lands that cannot be used for some desired range activities. The inability to place targets and other ground training infrastructure in areas above 3,200 feet because of wilderness restrictions is a serious limitation. The Air Force could accept the operational restrictions imposed from the proposed wilderness and proceed with the land-withdrawal renewal with the present restrictions in place. There is some concern, however, that this requires modifications to test and training missions conducted in the South Range that reduce training realism. In addition, significant costs result from the proposed wilderness protection. Accepting the current restrictions without potential mitigation measures keeps costs at today's levels.
- By specifically identifying what operational activities they would want and where they should be held, NTTR staff can work with USFWS to pursue options using the official legal and policy procedures that USFWS follows regarding the management of proposed wilderness areas in NWRs. By pursuing such options in collaboration with USFWS, the Air Force has the opportunity to benefit the mission. Some of these options should be coordinated at the local level; some require Air Force Headquarters involvement. NTTR needs to develop strategies appropriately.